Makes: 1 small loaf
Time to mix & knead: 20 minutes proving
Time to cook: 40-50 minutes
1 × 7g sachet of fast-action dried yeast
200ml lukewarm water
300g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
50g wholemeal bread flour
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
olive oil, for greasing
Good bread doesn’t hang around long in our house – we spread marmalade thickly on it for breakfast, dip it in soup for lunch and make crostini for dinner. All that’s left are a few odds and ends. This core bread recipe is so easy to whip up that, once you’ve got it nailed, you’ll be making it every weekend and finding fresh, meandering ways to get the best out of it. Using strong white bread flour for baking is very forgiving – it’s made up of proteins and starch that help the yeast to activate and your dough to rise.
You can easily double the ingredients to make two loaves. Freeze one or half a loaf if you’re not going to eat it all over the next few days. It’s always tempting to crack into the loaf still warm, but it’s worth waiting until it has completely cooled for the perfect texture.
1. Mix the yeast with 2 tablespoons of the warm water and set aside in a warm place for 10 minutes to fizz and froth.
2. Sift the flours together into a large bowl and sprinkle the salt to one side. Push the flour to the sides of the bowl to form a well in the centre, making space to pour in the liquid. Pour in the warm yeast mixture with the rest of the warm water and slowly fold in the flours with your hands. (Fly off the path and add walnuts, raisins, pumpkin seeds or olives here.)
3. When the mixture is combined into a sticky but manageable dough, turn it out on to a lightly oiled surface. Using the heel of your hand and your knuckles, knead the dough by pulling it towards you, pushing it away and folding it back in. Do this for 10 minutes, until the dough feels soft and begins to bounce back when you press it with a finger.
4. Place the springy dough in a lightly oiled bowl, loosely cover with clingfilm, and set aside to prove for 1 hour in a warm – but not too hot – place, or overnight in the fridge, until it has almost doubled in size.
5. Bring the dough back on to the oiled surface and knead again for another 5 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball by gently folding the sides of the dough under itself. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured baking tray or loaf tin, folds facing down, and leave to prove, loosely covered, for another 30 minutes, until risen again.
6. Preheat the oven to 230ºC/fan 210ºC/gas 8. When the dough has had time to prove and rise once more, score a few lines into the top using a very sharp serrated knife or a Stanley blade. Lightly dust the top of the dough with plain flour, then slide it into the oven. Throw a glassful of water into the bottom of the oven and shut the door so that the steam rises up and over the loaf to form a crust.
7. Bake for 40–50 minutes, until a golden crust has formed and the bread appears hollow – you can test this by knocking on the underside of the loaf or by checking the inner temperature with a thermometer (see tips, here). It should sound like you are tapping on the sole of an empty shoe.
8. Transfer the loaf to a wire rack and leave it to cool completely – the loaf keeps on cooking as it cools – before slicing.
Knead to know. Notes on bread.